Beasley at Large: Explore the past at Mike Miller Park

Photo by Rick Beasley

NEWPORT — Through a break in the dense scrub at a fork in the trail I spotted as unlikely an image as your apt to stumble on in the woods: a massive, 40-foot sand dune rising from the forest floor.

It was just one of the astonishing surprises that invite closer inspection at Mike Miller Park, a one-mile trail and day-use area tucked off Highway 101 south of the Yaquina Bay Bridge on Southeast 50th Street.

“When you’re walking along this lush, shrub-lined path, you may feel that you are far removed from civilization,” remarked county spokesman Casey Miller of the secluded park, one of 13 maintained in peak form by the Lincoln County Parks Department.

The 40-acre park was dedicated in 1974 and named for the late county judge and commissioner Mike Miller, who tenaciously argued for the site’s purchase. In 2012, a donation of adjacent land added six acres and a new offshoot, the “Emery Trail.”

“It was visionary,” remarked Casey Miller — no relation. “These are the kinds of amenities that draw people to Lincoln County and make a statement about who we are. Nearly 50 years later, it fits into our tourism strategy. This is what visitors look for.”

Everything about Mike Miller Park is appealing to office fugitives who need a midday break from their computer screens. Just minutes from downtown Newport, the trail opens on a historic railroad grade once used to carry spruce logs for aircraft from Yachats to Yaquina Bay during World War I.

Hikers are quickly enveloped by an ancient conifer forest seen only in a thin sliver of climate unique to the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Many decades of sheltered existence have allowed the Sitka spruce, western hemlocks and Douglas fir to once again achieve their unparalleled sizes.

Fifteen numbered posts along the 45-minute hike, accompanied by an informative brochure plucked from a watertight box at the trailhead, read like dog-eared pages in a book. The sand dune, it says, was once the shore of the Yaquina River, whose course has moved through millennia.

New life emerges from “nurse logs,” fallen trees and stumps whose decaying remains nurture vegetation, mushrooms of all kinds and new trees.

The place drips with moisture and is a home to small fry like salamanders, newts and frogs. Overhead, horned owls and other raptors cruise through treetops looking for this type of abundant prey.

A pond that stretches the length of the park is like a magnet for all types of wildlife, whose sign can be found in the muddy flats and topsoils. Stout footbridges span the waterway at three locations.

The trail has some good elevation and is made less slippery by the presence of a dynamic root structure that serves as steps, but a hiking stick is necessary to avoid wrenching ankle injuries. The path, with endless discoveries at every turn, lends itself to power hiking and multiple loops.

For a fleeting look at Oregon’s past, plan a future visit to Mike Miller Park.

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